Turkey defines its security options within three interacting strategic environments: the global system, implying mainly Turkey's position as regards the Soviet Union and the United States; its bilateral relations with Greece, involving mainly Cyprus and the Aegean; and its position within the Middle East subsystem.

After the Second World War, Turkey's freedom of choice was strictly limited by the Soviet threat and by the bipolar and heterogeneous character of the international system-the domination of world politics by the existence of the two diametrically opposed socio-political systems. First of all, Turkey considered itself part of the Western world ideologically. Second, confronted with the Soviet attempt to obtain control over the Straits and some of its eastern provinces, Turkey established very close ties with the United States, and finally became a member of NATO. In those years there was a high degree of coincidence between American and Turkish security interests. The objective was quite clearly the deterrence of the Soviet threat and the containment of Soviet expansion. Turkey's foreign policy demonstrated a remarkable simplicity. Its security policy showed a continuity of purpose, and defense planning was an easy task.

The last two decades have drastically altered the framework within which Turkish policy operates. Let us examine first the evolution of relations between Turkey and NATO, which is inevitably focused on the Turkish-American relationship. We shall then look at the continuing problem of Turkey's relations with Greece, and finally at the important new thrust in Turkish policy toward the Middle East as it has evolved in the past decade.


In the 1960s and 1970s, the circumstances which had induced Turkey to link its security interests completely with those of the United States underwent significant changes. In this period, Turkey's ties with the United States were steadily reduced. A number of specific political irritants played a role. The first was President Johnson's blunt letter to Prime Minister Inönü in June 1964, warning that Turkey was not permitted to use U.S. military equipment in an operation against Cyprus. The letter also threatened that NATO might not defend Turkey in the event of a Soviet aggression provoked by a Turkish military intervention in Cyprus. Equally dramatic was the U.S. arms embargo of July 1975. In both cases the most important damage was psychological. Obliterating the distinction between allies and enemies, these events enormously decreased the credibility of the Western Alliance in the eyes of the Turkish people and policymakers. Moreover, the more assertive role of Congress in foreign policy and security decisions signaled by the embargo affair allowed for greater intrusion of domestic political factors and of special interest groups into the American foreign policy decision-making process. This of course aroused deep anxiety in Turkish political circles and press.

The embargo also did great harm to Turkey's armed forces. Turkey's arms imports dropped steeply, and by the late 1970s it was unable to import the minimum of its arms needs. The Turkish armed forces are today still in an equipment crisis, with much weaponry out of date or deteriorating.

While still important in Turkey's foreign policy equation during this period, the Soviet threat became less immediate or direct, and ceased to be considered the main source of Turkish insecurity. Competitive relations with Greece became predominant over the East-West tension. The weight of Turkey's domestic problems increased. Adjustment to new economic conditions and to a changing international environment became the major preoccupation of policymakers. Efforts to adapt and to achieve greater autonomy in foreign affairs led to a foreign policy reorientation which was particularly reflected in closer ties with the Soviet Union, the Balkan neighbors and the Arab world. Nevertheless, Turkey's relations with the Warsaw Pact countries have never culminated in a politico-military rapprochement that would have been incompatible with Turkey's NATO membership.

During the years of détente, other important changes affected Turkey's foreign policy with regard to the global power configuration. The Soviet Union increased its military power and potential considerably in the 1960s and 1970s, supporting its intention to extend its sphere of influence beyond the "heartland" of Eurasia, and increasing its liberty of action in the "peripheral" areas such as the Middle East. Parallel to this development, the threat facing the southern flank of NATO in general and Turkey in particular has grown steadily in recent years.

First of all, the change in the overall nuclear balance in favor of the Soviet Union-although it has not yet gone beyond a certain parity-and the consequent American incapability of controlling escalation may well encourage the Soviet Union to be more assertive in time of crisis. There has been a linkage between the U.S. strategic deterrent and threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East. The alerting of U.S. strategic forces against a Soviet intervention during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war showed that this linkage existed. Given the present global nuclear balance, it remains an open question whether the United States could invoke this linkage if, and when, a crisis occurred involving a direct Soviet intervention.

Second, military trends on the southeastern edge of NATO have been dangerously unfavorable to the Alliance. The Soviets have recently increased the number of their divisions in the Caucasus area and have partly upgraded them, improving their combined-arms capability. In the Mediterranean, the Soviet Union has considerably improved its naval presence both quantitatively and qualitatively. The growth of Soviet anti-ship firepower capabilities, resulting from the development of long-range and high payload land-based aircraft, has increased the threat to NATO shipping in the Mediterranean. Thus Turkey's sea lines of communication, which are indispensable for supply and reinforcement in time of war, have become even more vulnerable.

Third, the Soviet-Syrian alliance is also a worrisome development for Turkish strategic planners. The prepositioning in Syria by the Soviets of heavy sophisticated weaponry increases the vulnerability of southern Turkey and adds to the probability of a multiple-front offensive.

Finally, the unprecedented degree of terrorism from which Turkey has suffered in recent years, on the one hand, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the destabilized political situation in Iran, on the other, have made the pressure of Soviet power heavier than ever for Turkey.

The increasing Soviet pressure and the growing vulnerability of the southern flank have induced Turkey to act at the same time decisively and cautiously. It is acting in NATO affairs much more firmly than five years ago. It has been gradually increasing military cooperation with the United States and some other allies in order to strengthen the southern flank.

On the other hand, Ankara acts cautiously in the sense that it is careful not to be provocative. It also involves itself in the prevention of local conflicts which might escalate into a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Such a confrontation in the region could in turn escalate "horizontally," and Turkey could not remain immune from it.

Turkey's relations with the United States have improved significantly. The arms embargo ended in September 1978. Especially during the last three years, Turkish-American security relations have grown considerably closer. On March 29, 1980, the two governments signed an "Agreement for Cooperation on Defense and Economy," whose article 5, paragraph 4, emphasizes that "the extent of the defense cooperation envisaged in this Agreement shall be limited to obligations arising out of the North Atlantic Treaty."

This agreement is being implemented satisfactorily. During a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to Ankara in early December 1981, the two governments announced the establishment of a high-level joint military group to improve defense cooperation between their two nations. They also confirmed their agreement to work together to improve NATO's military posture in the region and to modernize the Turkish armed forces. According to the terms of this agreement, the United States is assisting Turkey in the maintenance, repair and modernization of defense equipment. The United States is also working with Turkey for the implementation of new weapons production projects.1

Within the general framework of the Defense Cooperation Agreement of March 1980, and after 18 months of negotiations, U.S. and Turkish representatives in November 1982 concluded a "Memorandum of Understanding" providing for the construction, improvement, and joint use of some airfields mainly in the eastern provinces of Turkey. This document and the efforts made for its implementation have aroused in the Turkish and American press some speculation on the possibility of using these bases in a Persian Gulf contingency involving or not involving a direct Soviet military intervention. Turkish and U.S. officials have, however, emphasized on many occasions that the construction and improvement activities stipulated in the Memorandum have no connection with the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), and that airfields will be limited to NATO uses in pursuit of agreed Alliance missions. Moreover, it has been reported that the Memorandum of Understanding contains several provisions linking it to NATO defense plans. As a matter of fact, advance Turkish approval for use of these bases by the United States in a Middle Eastern or Gulf contingency would be incompatible with Turkey's security concept as well as with its self-defined role in the area.

The most recent indication of improving relations between Washington and Ankara is the considerable increase in U.S. assistance to Turkey proposed last February by the Reagan Administration. In terms of this proposal, military and economic aid to Turkey would rise to $934 million. The largest share of the new program would be military assistance ($759 million, including the $4 million reserved for training facilities for Turkish officers and specialists in the United States). The remaining $175 million would constitute economic support aid to Turkey for fiscal 1984. This represents a substantial rise from the $650 million which was actually made available in fiscal 1983.

However, Congress seems strongly inclined to maintain the seven-to-ten ratio for U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey, and has already slashed $40 million of the proposed military aid to Turkey while increasing aid to Greece from $280 to $500 million. The Administration has never accepted this ratio, and has stressed that it will fight to maintain the new aid level proposed to Congress. The Turkish government believes that such an artificial ratio would be irrational, and that, in establishing the amount of the aid, the tasks assigned to different NATO members under the NATO defense plans and the size of the armed forces of the countries concerned should be taken into consideration. Moreover, the Turkish leaders and people alike feel strongly that linking U.S. assistance to the Greek-Turkish disputes and trying to use it as a means of pressure to settle them would be the worst policy. Past experience shows that it does not help solve problems, but only renders them more difficult and complicated.


The disputes between Greece and Turkey-especially those over Cyprus and the Aegean, two critical strategic areas from Turkey's security standpoint-constitute an important factor contributing to the erosion of NATO's southern flank. Putting aside the command and control problems and likely force deployment difficulties created by the tension between the two allies, the Soviet Union is provided with ready opportunities to exploit problems between Greece and Turkey, promoting anti-Western feelings and destabilizing their internal political systems.

The first and probably most urgent problem concerns the methods of settlement of the Cyprus conflict. For Turkey, intercommunal talks constitute the only valid procedure for reaching a mutually acceptable and lasting settlement in Cyprus. Greece does not seem to have adopted this approach. It rather favors the internationalization of the conflict, drawing in especially the non-aligned nations, the European Community, and both superpowers.

Turkey believes that bilateral negotiations would be best for the Aegean as well. Because of the special circumstances of that sea, an equitable solution to the existing problems can be found only through such negotiations. Greece again rejects this approach, and favors the automatic application of the equidistance principle as in the continental shelf case. Greek responses on issues concerning territorial waters, airspace, and the remilitarization of Greek islands in violation of international treaties indicate that Athens may well incline toward unilateral Greek decision and action.

It should be noted that this Greek dislike for negotiated settlement has been accentuated since Andreas Papandreou came to power. The present Greek government has asserted that Turkey is a security threat, and has demanded from NATO and the United States "guarantees" to protect Greece from its fellow Alliance member. NATO and the United States have not accepted the view that Turkey menaces Greece, and have refused the Greek demand for guarantees.

The Turkish perception of Greek-Turkish problems is traditionally more moderate than the Greek one. Domestic troubles including the struggle against terrorism, in addition to the increasing Soviet assertiveness in Southwest Asia, have recently appeared to be more pressing than Greek-Turkish tension. Many Turks continue to view the Greek question more as a nuisance than a threat. With the victory of Mr. Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Party, however, Greece has become even more unreliable and more disturbing an ally for Turkey. This uneasy situation continues to complicate not only Turkey's defense plans but also its relations with the United States and other allies.


The Republic of Turkey, founded on Kemalist principles, had to eliminate the theocratic remnants of the Ottoman Empire and to develop a secular political structure. Thus, despite its religious and historic affinity with the nations of the Middle East, modern Turkey preferred not to show much interest in the region and especially in the Arab world, although it tried to maintain friendly relations with all its neighbors. Only the need to achieve a satisfactory settlement of the border dispute with Iraq over the oil-rich Mosul area in the mid-1920s, and with Syria for possession of Hatay, also known as Alexandretta in the late 1930s, obliged Turkey to get provisionally involved in the affairs of the region. Another major exception occurred during Turkey's search for security along its eastern borders, through the conclusion in 1937 of the Saadabat Pact with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. This was, however, no more than a loose nonaggression arrangement.

After the Second World War, options being strictly limited, Turkey approached the Arab world from the unidimensional perspective of East-West tension. The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), a part of the Western security system, never offered Turkey a viable security alternative. Turkey's relations with its West European allies were much more intimate than its contacts with Middle Eastern countries-and Ankara's lack of interest in the Middle East was misinterpreted by the Arab nations as an unfriendly attitude. First, Turkey's adoption of Western institutions was regarded by many Arabs as alienation from Islam. Second, differences in historical development, foreign policy tradition, geographic positions, and strategic problems led to divergent threat perceptions. Farther from the U.S.S.R., the Arabs did not feel the Soviet threat as Turkey did. Most Arabs showed a strong inclination to establish close relations with the Soviet Union in order to balance American influence and gain support against Israel.

In the 1970s, however, Turkey began to increase its economic cooperation with Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. It recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1976, and agreed in August 1979 to the opening of an Ankara office by the PLO. The Turkish-Arab rapprochement had significant politico-military ramifications as well. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, Moscow's overflights of Turkish airspace were tolerated. On the other hand, during the same Middle East conflict, Turkey refused to allow the United States refueling and reconnaissance facilities during the American airlift to Israel-in obvious contrast with the Turkish policies in the 1950s when Turkey allowed the United States to use the bases on its soil in carrying out the landings in Lebanon during the civil war in 1958. Turkey is also interested in developing cooperative military programs with Arab nations, primarily in the training field. To this effect, preliminary contacts are being made with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia.

Nevertheless, the increasing Soviet threat combined with changes in the Turkish domestic political milieu has recently induced Turkey to conduct a more balanced but more complex foreign policy in the Middle East. In order to comprehend Turkey's stance on more specific issues like the RDF, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Iran-Iraq war, one has to deal first with such general questions as Turkey's interests and foreign policy principles in the Middle East.


Turkey should not, and in fact does not, regard Persian Gulf security as exclusively an American or European matter. All the allies including Turkey share vital interests in the area. An interruption, or even a threat of interruption, in the oil flow from the Middle East, especially if it were linked to an increase in Soviet politico-military influence in the region, would undoubtedly have calamitous implications for Turkey. Its effects would cripple Turkey's economy and defense. Ankara's security posture would also suffer seriously from the collapse of the Western economic position. Moreover, the control of Iran and the Persian Gulf area by pro-Soviet forces or by the Soviet Union itself would result in the encirclement of the southern flank of NATO.

Western security as a whole is closely linked to stability in the Middle East. Soviet control of Persian Gulf oil-directly, or more likely through surrogates-would provide Moscow with a valuable means of intimidation. Political pressure would be exerted on NATO Europe by threats to interrupt the flow of oil on the one hand, and by offers of more security and preferential treatment on the other. This would imply a multiplication of Soviet possibilities to manipulate West European public opinion and to promote fragmentation of the Alliance. Turkey, with such West European allies intimidated to docility, would certainly feel far less secure than it does today.

Turkey's growing political and diplomatic concerns in the region have also been, to a considerable extent, a result of the intensifying economic ties which were forced upon it by circumstances. Like almost all the Western countries, Turkey is dependent on Middle East oil for the functioning of its economy. Ankara's domestic oil resources today can provide only 16 percent of its needs. The proportion of oil imported has been rising rapidly. The cost of all Turkey's imports in 1980 amounted to $7.4 billion, a 46-percent increase from the 1979 level of $5 billion.2 Virtually the entire increase in imports was related to the import of oil, non-oil imports being estimated to have increased only about 15 percent. (Rising oil prices accounted for approximately 80 percent of the increased value of oil imports.) Imported crude oil cost $2.65 billion in 1980 compared to $962 million in 1979. A considerable share of the imported oil comes from Iraq and the other Gulf states.3

Even the Western economies are not able to adjust easily to abrupt reductions in oil supply, and to consequent price increases. For Turkey, another tremendous and sudden increase in the oil bill would bring about a shocking destabilization of the economic system, probably leading to serious social disturbances, even if it may be assumed that Turkey will continue to get some oil from Libya and Iraq.4

The strategic aspects of oil are at least as important. Military strategy has become increasingly reliant on massive wartime fuel supplies which are normally larger than under peacetime conditions. Meeting new logistic requirements, controlling oil-producing areas, and interrupting enemy oil-supply lines have become in the present era the leading operational objectives. So oil plays a key role not only in the functioning of the Turkish economy, but also in achieving a viable conventional defense during international crisis and war. There is hardly any doubt that the conventional Soviet threat would loom more ominously over Turkey if the country were deprived of a secure oil supply.

Another area of economic cooperation with the Middle East countries is seen in the spectacular performance of Turkish contractors in the region. Tight credit and the depressed domestic market of the last four years have induced Turkish construction firms to seek contracts abroad more actively. The process was also spurred by the need of the oil-rich Middle East countries to rapidly realize broad infrastructure development. So the service receipts obtained by Turkish contractors operating in the region, particularly in Libya and Saudi Arabia, have steadily increased. By January 1981, Turkish contractors had secured contracts amounting to about $3.5 billion in those two countries alone, with additional contracts signed in the Gulf states and Iraq. It is estimated that the total value of contracts held by Turkish contractors in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq amounted to $10 billion by the end of 1982.

As Turkish contractors multiply their business, the number of Turkish workers in the region continues to rise. There are about 150,000 workers in the Middle East, and in 1981 they sent back $500 million in earnings. The figure is impressive when compared with the $2 billion transferred to Turkey by some 800,000 Turkish workers in Europe during the same period. The growing activity of Turkish contractors in the Middle East has also brought about a considerable increase in Turkish exports of construction materials to the region. The other Turkish exports to the Middle East are food and various kinds of consumer goods. Export earnings from the Middle East countries in 1979 were worth $400 million and were about twice that in 1981. An increased percentage of exports goes to those states each year. In 1979, 23 percent of Turkey's total exports had gone to the Middle East, and 64 percent to Western countries, mainly the European Economic Community. In 1981, exports to the Middle East rose to 44 percent while those to the West fell to 49 percent.

Turkey's security interests in the Middle East and Persian Gulf area are undoubtedly to a great extent a consequence of the fact that its security is linked to Western security. On the other hand, Turkish policy for security in the region also stems from its geographic position, its peculiar cultural development and its growing economic relations with the regional states. Turkey needs to develop a favorable milieu in which threats are minimized and economic relations maximized. It therefore has a great interest in peace and stability in the region. Turkish governments believe that "a harmonious balance between the main course of Turkey's policies and its regional policies will not only be in the best interests of regional peace and stability, but also be in the best interests of Turkey as well as those of our Western Allies."5

Today Turkey's approach to the Middle East is guided by a series of principles. First, Turkey refrains from taking sides in local disputes, but it would act as a mediator when invited by all the parties concerned. Prime Minister Bülent Ulusu has been an active member of the Islamic Conference mission mediating between Iran and Iraq. Second, Turkish foreign policy is sensitive to Arab security interests. It takes care that Turkey's cooperation with the West, especially in the field of defense, should not damage the security interests of Arab states. This implies particularly a refusal to permit the utilization of defense installations in Turkey against Arab interests. Third, Turkey observes the principle of noninterference in internal affairs of Middle Eastern states. It regards changes of political regimes in those countries as domestic developments. Fourth, Turkey believes that its relations with Arab nations are best handled on a bilateral basis according to the circumstances and characteristics of each state. In joining the Islamic Conference, Turkey thought that its participation would provide a useful ground to further economic relations with the members of the Conference at a bilateral level.6

Finally, in contrast with Arab nationalism, Turkish nationalism has no religious component. The Turkish state system has a secular character, which is enshrined as a fundamental principle in the Turkish Constitution. The question has been raised whether this principle is an obstacle to Turkey's participation in the Islamic Conference. Turkish diplomacy does not usually see a conflict.7 Nonetheless, Turkey, while enjoying full membership in the Conference, takes part in its activities only to the extent that the Turkish Constitution and the fundamentals of its foreign policy allow it to do so. At each session, Turkey emphasizes its position in a general manner by inserting a reservation in the records.


It will not be easy to keep a harmonious balance between the main course of Turkey's policies and its regional policies in a period of East-West tension, and particularly if military action should be required at the regional level to defend vital interests of the Western Alliance. The problem becomes even more complex when one considers the volatile character of the Middle East subsystem.

Albert Wohlstetter is the first, and probably the only, private strategist who has thoroughly examined Turkey's potential role in the protection of Persian Gulf oil. Very briefly summing up Professor Wohlstetter's analysis, he argues that, because of its geographic position, Turkey could play a crucial role in working out a viable defensive strategy in the region. From bases in Turkey, modern combat aircraft could interdict Soviet lines of communication in case of a Soviet attack south through Iran. Turkey might provide the only bases in the area from which NATO forces could strike at the origins of the attack.

Moreover, Wohlstetter continues, Turkey is important not only because of its location but also due to its NATO membership. Operations from Turkey would have the advantage of demonstrating allied involvement. It is, however, of great importance that "other members of the alliance prepare to act jointly with Turkey in defense against potential Soviet aggression in the Gulf. Preparations for such joint action, of course, would have to envisage reaffirming that some sort of guarantee by NATO powers would apply to Turkey." Such joint planning would emphasize the NATO involvement with Turkey, and help deter any Soviet inclination to move against the Gulf. This would of course imply that the essential strategic connection between the southern flank of NATO and the Persian Gulf would also necessitate improvement in the defense of the southern flank in general, and of Turkey in particular8.

It seems that the present U.S. Administration has come to adopt more or less the approach advocated by Wohlstetter, though officially it has made no demands on Turkey as regards the RDF. How does Turkey respond to this approach? What is Turkey's policy in connection with Persian Gulf security? What are the major constraints preventing Turkey from making policy commitments regarding the Gulf?

Sensitive to both regional and global realities, Turkey tends to conduct a subtle foreign policy in the Middle East. Turkish governments have so far refrained from assuming any responsibility outside the NATO treaty area with respect to the Gulf and other peripheral regions, and on several occasions Turkish officials have declared that Turkey has no intention of taking part in the RDF. Nevertheless, recent statements have also made it clear that Turkey would agree to consider the matter within the framework of NATO arrangements. In fact, Turkey, as a NATO member, has always participated in both official and unofficial meetings, with Americans and other allies, concerning Persian Gulf security. Turkey's position can be summarized in three points:

-Turkey will make no formal strategic commitment outside the NATO framework.

-It will remain ready and willing for consultations about Gulf security with its allies.

-As can be deduced from the preceding points, Turkey wants to reserve its freedom of action to stand aloof from or participate in a Gulf operation according to the circumstances of the specific case and the nature of the operation itself. This implies that Turkey might well act militarily, on the basis of an ad hoc decision, against an actual threat to the Gulf. Here is an ambiguity having a certain deterrent value.

Turkey's discretion can be explained above all by its regional interests and foreign policy principles. Moreover, it can be attributed to the changing strategic environment which has brought considerable pressure upon Turkey in recent years. As I have already dealt with these factors, I now turn to two other factors which are also behind Turkey's cautious attitude. First, the European allies are as cautious as Turkey. Second, Turks do not feel confident about the American approach to the region.

Although all the Western allies agree that Soviet actions in the Middle East and Persian Gulf area should be countered, they have not been able to work out a coherent strategy for the region. The European allies (and Japan) recognize that they are vulnerable to disruption of Persian Gulf oil. Where they seem to turn aside from the American position, however, is in their perception of the threats, and how to deal with them. Most Europeans believe that the greatest threat to their security is a possible U.S.-Soviet confrontation. The allies, therefore, are reluctant to involve NATO in Persian Gulf security and to participate in military programs that they consider potentially destabilizing for the region. In the face of this allied attitude, the advantage expected from the linkage between Persian Gulf security, Turkey and NATO becomes highly problematic.

Turkish opinion about American policies in the Middle East seems to be similar to that of the Europeans in some respects, especially on how to deal with threats to Middle East and Persian Gulf security. As an American expert on Turkey has observed quite correctly, although Turkish and American views of all major problems in the Western Alliance are closer than they have been since the 1950s and probably closer than those of the United States with any other Alliance member, Turks do not feel confident about U.S. policies toward the Middle East.9 They are not sure that the United States has defined its own strategic objectives clearly enough. This is particularly palpable on such questions as the mission of the RDF, the ways of coping with lesser conflicts, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the case of the RDF, the definition of objectives has been overshadowed by the analysis of means. Much has been written about the logistics problems and the design of the Force. But no adequate answer has so far been given to the question of what ends the RDF should serve.10 U.S. officials emphasize that the Force is programmed to deter Soviet aggression in Southwest Asia, particularly as it threatens access to oil, and to prevent the threat of Soviet military power being used for political coercion. But the prevention of lesser threats is also included by the Administration in the mission of the RDF. The Administration's approach to the question has been stated as follows: "For Southwest Asia, we are on a path towards development of a capability to meet the most demanding threat in the region which, inherently, will also provide the concepts and tailored forces necessary to cope with many lesser threats."11 In light of this approach, the independent Congressional Research Service arrives at the inevitable conclusion that "the planned Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force will be sized to fight against the most serious threat, a direct Soviet aggression into the region, apparently assuming that some part of the force will be able to cope with any lesser threat arising out of regional conflict or internal instability."12

Turkey has serious doubts whether the RDF would be useful against low-level conflicts involving or not involving indirect Soviet initiatives. The regional countries themselves are better able to deal with such contingencies. This, of course, would not exclude regional collective defense organizations, or assistance to the pro-Western regional states through arms transfers and other security programs. Turks believe that if local regimes are unwilling to face regional security problems and internal insurgencies, U.S. (or allied) military intervention would be useless, and even harmful to Western interests in the long and medium term. Arab states, too, are ambiguous about the American policies. All the emphasis put upon the RDF and the protection of oil resources has created the impression that military measures and asset-seizing strategies are the centerpiece of U.S. policy in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. So most Arabs have become inclined to view the RDF as a possible threat to their oil resources and to their own security, rather than as a protector against the Soviet threat.


The Turkish administration concentrates both on the global and regional aspects of Persian Gulf security. It is concerned not only about the dangers of a direct Soviet intrusion-which is for the Turks the most ominous and probably even a likely threat-but also about local elements such as the causes of internal instability, the dangers of inter-Arab conflicts, the dangers of religious and nationalist radicalization, and above all the Arab-Israeli conflict as a factor influencing Arab attitudes.

Turkey conducts a low-key policy toward Israel. In contrast with its efforts to strengthen links with Arab states, especially in the economic field, its relations with Israel have been steadily reduced. Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Israel (on March 28, 1949). But it deplored Israel's invasion of Arab lands in the wars of 1956 and 196713 and became more engaged in the Arab cause after the war of 1967. In December 1980, Turkey finally decided to withdraw all its embassy staff from Tel Aviv, except for a second secretary acting as a chargé d'affaires, and asked the Israeli government to lower its diplomatic representation in Ankara to the same level. Turkey strongly urges a return by Israel to the 1967 frontiers, and opposes any change in the status of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. Turkish governments have never ceased to believe that a durable and equitable settlement of the Middle East conflict cannot be reached without recognizing the Palestinians' right to form their own independent state. Turkey's relations with Israel are today at their lowest level. Nevertheless, despite Arab suggestions that Ankara cut off the remaining ties, Turkey seems to have no intention of severing relations with Israel completely.

The Turkish attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict deviates to a considerable extent from the American one. There is in Washington a widespread view that, given the other conflicts in the region, resolving the Palestinian question will not necessarily guarantee peace and security in the Middle East. It is true that peace between the Arab states and Israel will not solve everything or restore tranquility in the region. Other sources of instability will continue to exist, preparing conditions for Soviet influence. But it is also true that the Arab-Israeli conflict contributes greatly to the deterioration of the Western position by imposing an enormous burden on Western security policies. There is an inescapable link between the creation of a "consensus of strategic concerns" in the region and the Arab-Israeli conflict.14 For all the Arab leaders, the Arab-Israeli issue is the centerpiece of security concerns. For many Arabs in the Gulf, the Israeli threat is even more dangerous than the Soviet one. Qatar's Information Minister made this quite clear in an interview in Middle East Magazine's October 1981 issue: "The West is trying to sell us the idea of danger in Afghanistan, but I think Jerusalem is nearer than Kabul."

Because of U.S. support for Israel, the establishment of security ties with the United States is generally regarded as a heavy political liability. The regional states do not want to be seen by other regional states and their own peoples as a surrogate of Washington. They fear that such military arrangements would rather contribute to their own insecurity. Moreover, it should be noted that the Palestinian question continues to be an all-Arab concern. Until it is resolved, it will continue to influence the legitimacy of Arab governments. They could abandon the cause only at the risk of eroding their own legitimacy. Finally, there is every reason to believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is promoting, throughout the region, not only the expansion of direct Soviet influence, but also such radical political currents as Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon, however, has recently induced many people to believe that the close relationship between Israel and the United States is not of a permanent character. The destruction of Beirut by the Israeli artillery and air force, and the subsequent massacres in Sabra and Shatila, acted as the major factors which brought about a change in American public opinion, and then in Washington's attitude toward Israel. In assuring the successful evacuation of PLO and Syrian forces from West Beirut in August 1982, the United States played a very useful role. Moreover, the U.S. Administration decided to exploit the diplomatic openings created by the invasion and its aftermath with President Reagan's peace plan proposed on September 1, 1982, which was followed shortly by the Arab League Summit peace proposals at Fez on September 8.

Although Turkey regards the Reagan Plan as a serious initiative with some constructive aspects, it prefers the Fez Proposals as a more realistic and appropriate basis for negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. The Reagan Plan undoubtedly has some merits. It focuses on the Palestinian question as the crux of the Middle East conflict. It assumes that the core issue does not lie in Lebanon, but in the West Bank and Gaza. It indicates quite clearly that Israel should not annex or permanently occupy these areas. The Plan constitutes an attempt, albeit incomplete, to reconcile Israel's security concerns with the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. As Joseph J. Sisco has pointed out, it moves the emphasis "from crisis control to the peace process, and from primary concern over the Soviet strategic threat to the underlying indigenous problems of the region."15

Although it represents a certain improvement in the American conception of the Middle East situation, the Reagan Plan still has some very important shortcomings. It falls far short of Palestinian aspirations, since it does not support the right of self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and also does not recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Ruling out the option of an independent Palestinian state in advance and rejecting the PLO, the Reagan Plan not only restricts the potential range of possible solutions, but also underestimates the role of Palestinian nationalism in the political and social dynamics of the Middle East. But, on the other hand, the Plan overestimates Jordan's capacity to assume the major responsibility in the solution of the Palestinian problem.

There is a widely shared impression that the aloofness of Moscow during the Lebanon war has occasioned a decline in its influence in the Arab world. For those who evaluate the situation from Turkey's security perspective, it would be extremely difficult to adopt this view. It is true that the Lebanon war, while provisionally improving the reputation of the United States, raised the question of the reliability of Soviet arms and of Soviet political and military support. But the war and the subsequent failure of the Reagan Plan have provided Moscow with valuable avenues for increasing its influence by shifting the balance of power in the region to its advantage.

After the defeat of the PLO and Syria in Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Moscow acted decisively to rearm Syria. The Soviets have quickly replaced all the equipment lost by the Syrian army. Moreover, they have supplied Syria with two batteries of SAM-5 missiles and other sophisticated command and control equipment. Moscow has also strengthened its commitment by increasing the number of its military personnel in that country. Unquestionably, this constitutes a strategically disturbing development for Turkey.

Second, Israeli policy toward the West Bank and its repression of Arabs in that area, the inaction of Arab governments during the invasion of Lebanon, and the frustrations caused by the failure of the American peace proposals not only erode the prestige of the conciliatory forces, but also increase the credibility of Arab rejectionists who have much to gain from seeking greater Soviet involvement in Middle East affairs. Even the most moderate Arab governments are beginning to regard the Soviet Union as an indispensable element in the strategic equation of the Middle East. Moreover, the challenge to Yassir Arafat's leadership of the PLO may eventually produce a more radical organization, and may increase Syria's as well as Moscow's leverage in Mideast politics.


The fratricidal war of attrition between Iran and Iraq is another worrisome development. It continues without clear success for either side, and the recent battles have shown that no party has the strength to mount a decisive offensive. Turkey is particularly careful to pursue a policy of neutrality as regards the conflict. This has not prevented Ankara from trying to help the conflicting parties bring an end to their war and find a peaceful and honorable solution to their dispute. Turkey became a member of the Islamic Peace Committee set up right after the beginning of the war and has actively participated in its work. The efforts of the Committee so far have proved unsuccessful in conciliating the two parties. Nonetheless, the Turkish government emphasizes Turkey's readiness to expend all possible efforts to stop the war and settle the dispute by peaceful means.

Turkey's reasons for seeking an early negotiated settlement to the Iran-Iraq war are several. First, the bartered trade between Turkey and the two conflicting countries has enormously increased in recent years-partly as a consequence of war, but mainly in line with the recent reorientation of Turkey's economic relations from the European Community to the Middle East. The war has caused considerable destruction to the material resources of both Iraq and Iran. Their oil output is shrinking, and their financial resources decreasing. If these resources were used for their progress and prosperity, economic cooperation could be much stronger than it is today.

Second, the continuation of the war has created a dangerous power vacuum in the region, which is becoming more and more disturbing from Turkey's security standpoint. The growing inability of both states to control their own territories effectively is encouraging the separatists, militant leftist groups, and other centrifugal forces in Iraq and Iran. In Turkey's southeastern provinces, villages close to the frontier are being terrorized and roads vital for international transportation are being attacked by armed bands, infiltrating especially from Iraq. In May 1983, in order to stop such violations of the Turkish frontier, the Turkish armed forces undertook, with the consent of the Iraqi government, a limited but successful police operation against some of these groups based in Iraqi territory.

Third, the war may bring about a further radicalization of the regimes in Iran and Iraq. This in turn would increase the already existing instability in the region, and would provide a more fertile ground for Soviet influence.


Turkey develops its security priorities by taking into consideration not only the dangers of Soviet expansion, but also the complexity of regional problems and their relationship to the global balance. Thus it does not separate the question of Middle East and Gulf security from the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question.

Although Turkey has no intention of severing diplomatic relations with Israel, it views this state's uncompromising attitude as the main, if not the only, source of Middle East unrest. According to Turkey, peace in the Middle East can only be reestablished if Israel evacuates the Arab lands which it invaded in 1967 and the Palestinian people gain the right to form their own independent state. Furthermore, Turkey believes that no lasting settlement can be reached without the participation of the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in the negotiations. The settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict would eliminate most of the conditions for increased Soviet influence in the region.

Just as Turkey places a high priority on efforts to strengthen its relations with the Middle East countries-second only to its membership in the Western Alliance-most of the regional states regard Turkey as an important factor for peace and stability, and appreciate its security requirements as a member of NATO. The upgrading of the Turkish armed forces and the improvement of the bases for an effective allied reinforcement capability would serve to heighten deterrence against potential attack, and would unavoidably affect the regional balance in the Middle East and Persian Gulf area in favor of the West. Though the area would remain beyond NATO's zone of responsibility, the revitalization of NATO's defense posture would undoubtedly help prevent any adverse political repercussions which might arise out of a perception of overwhelming Soviet superiority in the region.

1 In its defense modernization efforts, Turkey is also cooperating closely with the Federal Republic of Germany. The Tank Upgrading Program and the Frigate Construction Program are two prominent examples of Turkish-German defense cooperation.

2 It is interesting to note that the export revenues in the same year totaled only $2.910 billion.

3 In 1981, 7 million tons of a total of 12.5 million tons imported came from Iraq, 2.4 million tons from Libya, and 0.9 million tons from the Soviet Union via Iraq. In April 1982, Turkey and Libya agreed to increase Libyan petroleum exports to Turkey to 4 million tons.

4 See, on this subject, Seyfi Tashan, "Persian Gulf Security: A Turkish View," a paper presented at the "Persian Gulf and Energy Security" Workshop, June 4-6, 1981, Kronberg, Federal Republic of Germany, p. 1.

5 Taner Baytok, "Recent Developments in the Middle East and South West Asia: Impacts on Western Security," NATO Review, August 1981, p. 12.

6 See Ayhan Kamel, "Turkey's Relations with the Arab World," Foreign Policy (Ankara), 1974, Vol. 4, No. 4, p. 105.

7 Hamit Batu, "New Developments in Turkish Foreign Policy," Foreign Policy (Ankara), 1976, Vol. 5, No. 5, p. 13.

10 Christoph Bertram, "Introduction," in America's Security in the 1980s, Adelphi Paper (No. 173), 1982, p. 2.

11 The Persian Gulf: Are We Committed? At What Cost? (A Dialogue with the Reagan Administration on U.S. Policy), Prepared for the Use of the Joint Economic Committee with the Assistance of the Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C.: GPO Dec. 21, 1981, p. 29.

12 Ibid., p. 14.

14 On the same subject, see Christopher Van Hollen, "Don't Engulf the Gulf," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1981, p. 1065.

15 Joseph J. Sisco, "Middle East: Progress or Lost Opportunity?" Foreign Affairs, America and the World 1982, p. 628.



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  • Ali L. Karaosmanoglu is a member of the Foreign Policy Institute (Ankara), and of the Political and Social Studies Foundation (Istanbul), which are private institutions. This paper is partly based on previous research carried out under a NATO fellowship. The views expressed in this article, however, belong only to the author, and cannot be attributed to any official body.
  • More By Ali L. Karaosmanoglu